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ASRock M8 Mini-ITX Barebones Gaming PC Review

ASRock's M8: Build Your Own Compact Gaming Box

A number of Tom's Hardware editors are excited about the trend towards smaller, faster PCs after witnessing Chris Angelini’s love affair with Falcon Northwest's Tiki. At the same time, we still remember that expensive pre-built systems were outside of our budgets back when we actually had to pay for the latest hardware (Ed.: Hey, I paid for the Tiki with my own money). Sharp memories like those help us keep a proper perspective on the reasons enthusiasts like to build their own boxes.

ASRock thinks it has the perfect do-it-yourself solution in the M8 PC. But is this system really all that special? Isn’t it just another fancy case with conventional, standardized parts inside? Couldn’t we just buy a mini-ITX motherboard, an SFX power supply, and a  slim gaming case of our choosing?

Designed with a riser to accommodate extra-large graphics cards, enclosures that leveraged this concept aren't very common any more. Maybe they were ahead of their time, or perhaps enthusiasts simply didn't "get it". But with compact towers introducing us to flagship-class hardware in ever-small spaces, ASRock sees this as the perfect time to re-introduce the concept to our do-it-yourself community.

Rather than forcing builders to figure out on their own (the hard way) that they need special cables to connect a standard board to a slim optical drive, the company even goes so far as to include the drive itself. And rather than watch us all argue over the various power supply form factors that erroneously get labeled microATX, ASRock installs a 450 W SFX unit at its own factory. And since ASRock just so happens to be a motherboard manufacturer, it ties everything together using an upgraded version of its Z87-ITX.

ASRock M8 Barebones PC Configuration
Chassis
ModelASRock M8 miniITX Slim Tower
Expansion Slots2 x full-height on riser card
Internal Bays5 x 2.5", or 1 x 2.5" + 1 x 3.5"
Power BaySFX, front-mounted, internal extension cable
Optical Bay5.25" slim, front-loading-only
Front Panel I/O4 x USB 3.0, headset, flash media interface (SD/MMC/MS PRO)
Fans2 x 70 mm bottom, 2 x 70 mm top
Dimensions15.8" (H), 4.9" (W), 14.7" (D), 16.25 Pounds
Motherboard
ModelASRock Z87-M8: LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express
External Data4 x USB 2.0, 4 x USB 3.0, eSATA, 1x gigabit Ethernet
External Audio5 x Analog, 1 x S/PDIF
External Video1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI
Internal Ports6 x SATA 6Gb/s (shared w/eSATA), 2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
Internal Slots1 x PCIe x16, 1 x mini-PCIe (filled w/Wi-Fi), 2 x SO-DIMM
Maximum Memory2 x DDR3 SO-DIMM (all standard speeds and capacities)
Gigabit EthernetIntel WGI217V PHY
Wireless NetworkBroadcom BCM4352 802.11ac dual-band, 867 Mb/s
Audio ControllerCreative Sound Blaster Core3D
Other Features
Optical DriveLite-On DC-8A2SH 8x DVD-RW (slot-loading)
Power SupplyFSP450-60GHS(85)-R: 450 W, dual eight-Pin PCIe, 80 PLUS Bronze
Cooling4 x 70 mm 4000 RPM Fans
WarrantyOne Year
Price$550
CPU, CPU Cooler, Hard Drives, RAM, Operating System And Peripherals Not Included

If we subtract the cost of its expensive slot-loading optical drive and power supply, we end up paying $400 for a very nice compact motherboard and BMW-designed feature-packed case. Two hundred dollars each for a motherboard and case isn’t cheap, but it still pushes us towards a far less expensive build compared to the pre-configured systems we’ve recently tested. We'reready for a closer look!

  • rolli59
    Definitely only reason to purchase is the style.
    Reply
  • lpedraja2002
    The old saying that hot air rises is usually true because it's less dense. To take advantage of this phenomenon, I flipped the bottom exhaust and top intake fans. Both bottom fans were now intakes, both top fans were now exhaust, and all I needed to do was:

    Completely gut the system, since the bottom panel is secured from the inside with four screws.
    And then slice up the wire sleeves, since the guide on each fan frame was farther apart.

    CPU load temperature immediately dropped by roughly 20°, but at the expense of messier cabling.

    Awesome way of thinking Thomas, that's why I love you guys. I am curious however to know if you emailed them to tell them about this solution. Since it made such a dramatic difference they should change the way those fans are positioned.
    Reply
  • second_exodous
    I'm looking into barebones to build a steam box and I'm finding they all have noise/thermal issues. I hope that Valve has a hand in some sort of certification program and hires their own engineers to test these barebone systems before giving the stamp of approval as a system to be used as a steam box. I'm also a Linux user and if they can clear up Linux compatibility for me that would also be great.
    Reply
  • jestersage
    I hope this fans the flames of trend and others follow suit - so innovation goes up and prices go down. I like the M8. And Thomas gives it a very good once-over - including answers to some issues. Good job!
    Reply
  • gadgety
    Thank you for a thorough review.
    Reply
  • razzb3d
    Just remove the plexiglass window and replace it with a nice honeycomb metal mesh. Cooling problem solved.
    Reply
  • Onus
    This case looks like a good idea, that just needs some refinement to make it even more generic. Another 10mm of thickness to allow 80mm fans (and possibly a full-size optical drive) could go a long way.
    Does the added trace length or extra connection required to use a riser card impose any kind of penalty on graphics cards? Please test this, by using one on a typical motherboard just for some measurements.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    11789583 said:
    This case looks like a good idea, that just needs some refinement to make it even more generic. Another 10mm of thickness to allow 80mm fans (and possibly a full-size optical drive) could go a long way.
    Does the added trace length or extra connection required to use a riser card impose any kind of penalty on graphics cards? Please test this, by using one on a typical motherboard just for some measurements.
    It doesn't need extra thickness to support the larger fans, just a minor redesign of the top and bottom panel. But the top panel redesign would include a different locking mechanism, so the tooling cost would be high.

    Reply
  • thespaceduck
    Maybe it is just me, but doing 9 different test for "performance" for a CHASSIS seems redundant and obsolete.
    Reply
  • crenwelge
    I purchased an ASRock mini-ITX HTPC that never worked. It continually blue screened and crashed. I sent it to ASRock 5 times for repair before finally giving up. Its technicians are either incompetent or dishonest . Once they sent it back with parts loose inside the case, another time without the power supply. Every time they claim to have tested it, but every time it came back blue-screening and crashing. Newegg refused to take it back and instead offered me a $100 credit. When I tried to use it, I found Newegg had deactivated my account. ASRock may be a competent motherboard house, but they cannot build and service reliable systems.
    Reply